Cops arrest 17-year-old suspected of hundreds of swattings nationwide

Enlarge / Booking photo of Alan Filion, charged with multiple felonies connected to a “swatting” incident at the Masjid Al Hayy Mosque in Sanford, Florida.

Police suspect that a 17-year-old from California, Alan Filion, may be responsible for “hundreds of swatting incidents and bomb threats” targeting the Pentagon, schools, mosques, FBI offices, and military bases nationwide, CNN reported.

Swatting occurs when fraudulent calls to police trigger emergency response teams to react forcefully to non-existent threats.

Recently extradited to Florida, Filion was charged with multiple felonies after the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) traced a call where Filion allegedly claimed to be a mass shooter entering the Masjid Al Hayy Mosque in Sanford, Florida. The caller played “audio of gunfire in the background,” SCSO said, while referencing Satanism and claiming he had a handgun and explosive devices.

Approximately 30 officers responded to the call in May 2023, then determined it was a swatting incident after finding no shooter and confirming that mosque staff was safe. In a statement, SCSO Sheriff Dennis Lemma said that “swatting is a perilous and senseless crime, which puts innocent lives in dangerous situations and drains valuable resources” by prompting a “substantial law enforcement response.”

Seminole County authorities coordinated with the FBI and Department of Justice to track the alleged “serial swatter” down, ultimately arresting Filion on January 18. According to SCSO, police were able to track down Filion after he allegedly “created several accounts on websites offering swatting services” that were linked to various IP addresses connected to his home address. The FBI then served a search warrant on the residence and found “incriminating evidence.”

Filion has been charged as an adult for a variety of offenses, including making a false report while facilitating or furthering an act of terrorism. He is currently being detained in Florida, CNN reported.

Earlier this year, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) introduced legislation to “crack down” on swattings after he became a target at his home in December. If passed, the Preserving Safe Communities by Ending Swatting Act would impose strict penalties, including a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for any swatting that lead to serious injuries. If death results, bad actors risk a lifetime sentence. That bill is currently under review by the House Judiciary Committee.

“We must send a message to the cowards behind these calls—this isn’t a joke, it’s a crime,” Scott said.

Last year, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) warned that an “unprecedented wave” of swatting attacks in just two weeks had targeted 11 states, including more than 200 schools across New York. In response, Schumer called for over $10 million in FBI funding to “specifically tackle the growing problem of swatting.”

Schumer said it was imperative that the FBI begin tracking the incidents more closely, not just to protect victims from potentially deadly swattings, but also to curb costs to law enforcement and prevent unnecessary delays of emergency services tied up by hoax threats.

As a result of Schumer’s push, the FBI announced it would finally begin tracking swatting incidents nationwide. Hundreds of law enforcement agencies and police departments now rely on an FBI database to share information on swatting incidents.

Coordination appears to be key to solving these cases. Lemma noted that SCSO has an “unwavering dedication” to holding swatters accountable, “regardless of where they are located.” His office confirmed that investigators suspect that Filion may have also been behind “other swatting incidents” across the US. SCSO said that it will continue coordinating with local authorities investigating those incidents.

“Make no mistake, we will continue to work tirelessly in collaboration with our policing partners and the judiciary to apprehend swatting perpetrators,” Lemma said. “Gratitude is extended to all agencies involved at the local, state, and federal levels, and this particular investigation and case stands as a stern warning: swatting will face zero tolerance, and measures are in place to identify and prosecute those responsible for such crimes.”

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